We have the same problems occurring on both sides of the pond in completely different health systems. I have worked in both the USA and the UK as an RN and I have always said that there are more similarities than differences...this is especially true when it comes to nursing. On both sides of the pond healthcare has been enslaved by the almighty dollar (or pound). The people running the hospitals do not see nurses as educated professionals who are crucial to patient safety. They see nurses as an expense that they want to do away with.
They will happily send a ward nurse an unstable patient who needs her constant presence at their bedside to survive the shift on top of 20 other patients who all need massive amounts of care. They will then refuse to send her another nurse or any kind of help citing money as the main problem. They know that people will assume that the shitty care those other 20 patients have received are a result of horrible lazy nurses. They won't have angry relatives screaming at them...the overwhelmed nurse will have that while she is busy trying to get blood hung on the guy with the GI bleed. If a patient was harmed in that situation do you know who the law would go after? The nurse. Fact.
Many good nurses have lost their registration due to situations like this one. The boards of nursing in the USA and the NMC here in the UK have taken an interesting stand on these situations. Their view is that a nurse is a professional and that if she agrees to take on a dangerous amount of acutely ill patients than she is liable. Completely. Their advice to us is that we need to get away from an employer who won't staff properly or we are liable and they will take our pin numbers so that we can never work in healthcare again. I have a written letter from them stating this. Their advice was to refuse a dangerous assignment as it is better to get fired and anger your manager rather than end up in court.
There are three problems with this stand by our nurse licensing organisations: first of all nurses have families and mortgages and financial commitments and can't just pack in their jobs. The second problem is that the UK has a complete recruitment freeze going on at the minute and there are NO JOBS. NONE. Most of our new grad nurses are unable to find employment. The third problem is that if you do take a stand and refuse to take on a dangerous assignment you will not only lose your job but get blacklisted and never get another. I have seen them give bad references and take disciplinary action against a nurse because they have refused to be the only nurse on a 30 bed ward. Two of these nurses are currently on the dole.
There is nothing forcing the managers to staff the wards safely. Nothing. This is why everyone is getting the hell away from the bedside. If you think they are getting out and going quaktitioner because they are too posh to clean up faeces and simply want to advance and get more pay you are mistaken. It's the impossible the workloads and the liability that are causing the nurses to flee. Nurses love nursing they just don't like abuse. More nurses are escaping the bedside completely by leaving healthcare all together. A very very small number are going into "advanced roles". If you go to feed that patient or clean up the other one who is lying in filth the time you spend away will kill one of your other patients. Patients weren't as unstable years ago. People like this died quickly and back then it was accepted.
I am hoping that British journalists will talk to nurses who are CURRENTLY working in our hospitals. I want to see them do research rather than the usual "nurses don't wash their hands and leave you in your own filth because they are mean" tabloid rubbish. I want our hospitals to improve. This is never going to happen until people in general realise that nurses are important and that we need lots of them. We already KNOW that having more nurses saves more money than it costs because of the reduction in expensive patient complications as well as inpatient stays. I am talking about Registered Nurses here...not the minimum wage paid housekeeper who was taught how to take a blood pressure and wears a uniform nearly identical to mine.
Nurses who have left nursing have said that it is going to take less patients and better working conditions to get them back into the profession. Having to clean up shit and puke are the least of our worries and the easiest part of the job really.
Our abhorrent salaries are the least of our worries.
Simply paying more money to nurses isn't going to fix anything.
In the USA an RN who has just qualified (including diploma and associate degrees) start at a salary of about $50,000-$55,000. In some places it is up to $60,000-$70,000. This is far higher than the salary that most university graduates obtain in the beginning. . Nurses earn more than policemen, social workers, and teachers. There is a lot of room to grow and it's fairly easy to bring in a 6 figure salary annually if you pick up lots of overtime. Nurses in the UK are banned from overtime right now and mandatory over time is completely unpaid. But even with a decent salary and wickedly awesome overtime pay USA hospitals cannot retain their nurses.
"In nursing, pay isn't the only issue. Difficult working conditions and understaffing also deter qualified people from pursuing the profession (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/21/07, "Labor Shortages: Myth and Reality"). But average annual wages for registered nurses (one of the most highly trained categories) is now just under $58,000 a year, compared with a $36,300 average for U.S. workers overall. And it's clear that qualified American nurses see that as not enough: There are 500,000 registered nurses who are not practicing their profession—fully one-fifth of the current RN workforce of 2.5 million and enough to fill current vacancies twice over."
"While nurses' advocates say better pay is critical, they also argue that working conditions must improve if the U.S. is to cultivate an enduring nursing workforce. Future projections of staffing troubles are ominous. The current 8.5% shortage is expected to surge to 29%—or more than 810,000 nurses—by 2020, according to the U.S. Health & Human Services Dept. "You will draw in some people with a good pay raise, but you won't necessarily get them to stay," says Cheryl Johnson, a registered nurse and president of the United Association of Nurses, the largest nurses' union in the U.S. "Almost every nurse will tell you that staffing is a critical problem. The workload is so great that there's not time to see how [patients are] breathing, give them water, or turn them to prevent bedsores. The guilt can be unbearable."
From: A Critical Shortage of Nurses http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/aug2007/db20070828_104375_page_2.htm
You wouldn't even believe the figure of qualified British nurses who are living in Britain and refusing to work as nurses so I won't post it. The hospitals would refuse to hire them anyway. They want the registered nurses out.
Basically the Americans are paying their nurses more money and still nurses who love nursing don't want to do it. In the UK we are paying them absolute shit and yet nurses who love nursing don't want to do it. Check out some of the comments on that article. Could have been written by any nurse at my hospital.
Experienced well educated nurses who are dedicated to nursing are leaving the profession in droves and their managers are loving it. We train more nurses and they (well the ones who can find a job anyway) burn out quick. We burn them out faster than we can train them. What the fuck is going on? The bottom line is that healthcare revolves around money and nurses are seen as a cost. The powers that be don't even really know what a nurse does or what they are responsible for. They don't understand the outcomes that patients have when there are too few nurses. To these guys nurses are just a part of a budget that needs to be reduced. An inexperienced nurse is cheaper. A foreign nurse who can't speak english is cheaper and more likely to take abuse and accept dangerous workloads because he/she doesn't understand the law.
I have so many sick patients and I'm so scared that I am often throwing up before work due to nerves. I am not the only one at my hospital who feels this way. We have so many patients we can't even remember all of their names and medical problems. The whole shift becomes a rat race trying to run from one task to the next with constant interruptions. I can easily be halfway through 18 jobs at any given time. Then the consultant shows up to do rounds and wants information from me on people who I haven't even seen. Haven't even been able learn about them. Forget about being able to look in their notes or spend any time with them at any point during your 15 hour shift. We are not nursing we are putting out fires all day. Ninety-nine percent of us want to do real nursing. Most of us working today trained in the "the good old days".
Sometimes people stop breathing at mealtime. Sometime post-op patients come back to the ward at mealtime. Sometimes patients have a seizure at mealtime. Sometimes 8 people need pain killers at mealtime. Lots of times all this happens all at once at mealtime. There is no one to feed my other 12 patients who are unable to feed themselves. I am then accused of "letting people starve because I can't be bothered with real nursing care". Had I let any of that stuff go and fed my patients first I would be in court real fast. We rarely have doctors on the wards as they don't have ward based doctors at my hospital so it's not like they can do CPR while I feed everyone.
We ask management to please allow us to have help at mealtime. They have literally (oh yes) responded with "piss off". No they are not running around trying to get nurses in because they care about patient care. Quite the opposite in fact. These bastards don't even understand the link between staffing and patient care. I'm sure our chief executive doesn't understand the difference between a nurse and a porter. They want to save money.
So so afraid someone will die because I can't be 10 places at once and I will be charged with manslaughter. This is not an unreasonable fear but a very valid one. This was confirmed for me after I spoke to the NMC and an attorney who was once a nurse. The people who refuse to send any staff will have no comeback and that is the truth. It makes me so angry.
I thought this article illustrates the point I am trying to make about working conditions and why nurses are NOW seen as less caring than they used to be. A british A&E nurse could have written this. My Turn: If ER Nurses Crash, Will Patients Follow? - Newsweek My Turn - MSNBC.com
The point this guy is making is this:
More patients+ more patients with increasingly complex problems+less nurses due to intentional short staffing = horrible care and nurses getting a bad reputation. They get verbally and physically abused. They become burned out. We are losing more bedside nurses to this than anything. Would an abused wife stay in a marriage where her husbands beats her if someone offers her more money?
What would happen of all the burned out nurses who left the beside decided to come back and work? Would that fix the problem? Nope. The hospitals wouldn't hire them. They don't want them. They don't want the new grads either. There are no jobs in the UK and they are getting harder to find in the USA. It's just one big roaring nightmare and I don't know how to make these people listen.